Aug 7, 2022
Jenny Hall

Dhammapada Verse 280

Verses from the Dhammapada

How does laziness appear in the training and how can we use it as a means for transformation?



“He who is lazy and idle staying in bed when it is morning will never find the path.’’

This verse points to the importance of Great Determination (one of the three requirements of Zen training), when following the Zen Way.

He who is lazy and idle staying in bed when it is morning… “

When we first embark on the Zen training, we are usually keen to follow the daily timetable as suggested by our teachers. For example, we get up immediately the alarm rings. After a while, however, resistance may arise expressed in such thoughts as ‘Why should I get up exactly at the same time each morning? Just a few more minutes won’t hurt!’

This is the purpose of the timetable; it puts us in touch with the ‘Bull’, the emotional energy that drives all our thought and actions. These create the delusion of ‘me’. This delusion either resists or clings to whatever is occurring. If ‘I’ judge the occurrence as not suiting ‘me’, I lazily hold back. There is resistance. I may go through the motions but in a distracted way.

A friend took his car round to the local garage for a service. Later he picked it up and drove it home. When he lifted the bonnet, he noticed that there was oil smeared all over the engine. The oil filler cap hadn’t been replaced. On returning to the workshop, he heard the mechanics talking and laughing with each other as they worked. In the background loud music was blaring. There seemed little engagement with the work in hand. They appeared to be rather bored with it. If we become careless when handling objects, mistakes are then made. They may break or cease to function well.

Not only do ‘I’ attempt to distance myself from situations and objects in this way but the opposite also occurs. If ‘I’ judge them as beneficial or enjoyable to ‘me’, there is often an all out determined effort to pursue, procure and cling to them. This inevitably leads to suffering.

In the following story, Icarus, despite his father’s warning, gets carried away in his efforts. Rather than laziness, stubbornness is revealed.

In the Greek myth, the craftsman Daedalus  made huge wings for himself and his son, Icarus. They were desperate to flee the wrath of King Minos. With great skill, Daedalus fashioned the wings from feathers secured with wax. When they were completed, he and his son strapped them onto their backs. With trepidation they jumped off a high cliff overlooking the sea. With great joy and relief, they found themselves airborne.

Daedalus yelled a warning to Icarus, ‘Don’t fly too near the sea or you’ll drown! Don’t fly too near the sun or you’ll burn!’ They both flew on their wings away from Crete. Icarus was filled with such exuberance he ignored his father’s warning completely. He wanted to see how high he could fly. He soared upwards to the sun with great recklessness. Excitement turned to pain as the burning wax melted from the sun’s rays, dripped down his arms. Daedalus watched in horror as his son dropped from the sky and sank into the sea.

‘… will never find the path.’

Great Determination in following the Zen path is linked to Great Doubt – in the illusion of ‘me’[- (another of the three requirements of Zen training),  and Great Faith in the Buddha Nature, with which we are all endowed - (the first of the three requirements).  The word ‘determination’ comes from the Latin, ‘determinare’. ‘De’ means completely and ‘terminare’ means to terminate. It is not until ‘I’ have been completely terminated that the power and wisdom of the Buddha Nature is revealed. The path involves meeting the hate and desire driving the thought and action that create ’me’. We allow their fiery energy to burn me  away. We give ourselves wholeheartedly into whatever is arising whether emotion or situation. The Buddha Nature, Choiceless Awareness, is then revealed.

Unlike ‘I’, with its selfish goals of avoidance for procurement, the Buddha Nature is compassionately aware in each moment. There is no separation between subject and object. Indeed reverence, wisdom and strength flow for the benefit of all.

The vet, James Herriot, describes this selfless action in one of his stories. When he first started practicing, the only experience he had had of a cow giving birth was studying a glossy picture in an obstetrics book. It depicted a cow on a pristine floor. The vet was wearing an immaculate overall. There was not a speck of dirt or spot of blood. All preconceptions were emptied out during his first delivery. The calf was trapped upside down inside its mother. With muscles aching and covered in blood, James Herriot lay for two hours on dirty cobbles trying to turn the calf. After a supreme effort the calf was born.

There was no resistance or attempt to overpower the situation. There was an at-one-ment with the task in hand, a perfect collaboration with cow and calf.

Just before my father died he said rather wistfully, ‘It has all gone so quickly.’

Daito Kokushi mirrors this reflection. He says ‘Time flies like and arrow… Be diligent! Be diligent!’

He is urging us to find the path. All we have to do to find it is to give ourselves wholeheartedly into this moment.

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